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New Orleans Lawyers:

The human toll of the hurricane is almost too much for me to even contemplate. But just think about one small bit of it--the effect on New Orleans lawyers and the legal system. Consider this email today from a New Orleans lawyer. I hope that it won't turn out to be this bad, but it is astounding to contemplate to possible effect on the justice system:

5,000 - 6,000 lawyers (1/3 of the lawyers in Louisiana) have lost their offices, their libraries, their computers with all information thereon, their client files - possibly their clients, as one attorney who e-mailed me noted. [T]hey are scattered from Florida to Arizona and have nothing to return to. Their children's schools are gone and, optimistically, the school systems in 8 parishes/counties won't be re-opened until after December. They must re-locate their lives.

Our state supreme court is under some water - with all appellate files and evidence folders/boxes along with it. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals building is under some water - with the same effect. Right now there may only be 3-4 feet of standing water but, if you think about it, most files are kept in the basements or lower floors of courthouses. What effect will that have on the lives of citizens and lawyers throughout this state and this area of the country? And on the law?

The city and district courts in as many as 8 parishes/counties are under water, as well as 3 of our circuit courts - with evidence/files at each of them ruined. The law enforcement offices in those areas are under water - again, with evidence ruined. 6,000 prisoners in 2 prisons and one juvenile facility are having to be securely relocated. We already have over-crowding at most Louisiana prisons and juvenile facilities. What effect will this have? And what happens when the evidence in their cases has been destroyed? Will the guilty be released upon the communities? Will the innocent not be able to prove their innocence?

It is pretty amazing to think that not only are the files for many cases likely damaged beyond all repair, but unlike more focused disasters, the swath of destruction was broad enough to wreck the back-up files that lawyers and clients might keep in their own offices as well. And this presumably applies to medical files, financial records, etc., as well. Truly staggering.

Shelby (mail):
Todd:

Alarming, yes, but also already noted here.

This seems like an excellent issue for the ABA and other legal groups to focus on.
9.1.2005 2:52pm
Bryan C (mail):
That's terrible. I wish more of this information was commonly stored online, physically distributed as widely as possible. Or if you have to store it locally, at least we could put on some sort of media that has a better chance of surviving than paper.
9.1.2005 2:53pm
Fred Vincy (www):
We couldn't get to our files for about 8 weeks after 9/11 (our offices were across the street from the WTC). Despite some unflattering images of NY lawyers, our adversaries were uniformly cooperative about giving us extensions, copies, etc. But you are right that the logistical issues in New Orleans are even more daunting.
9.1.2005 3:20pm
Paul Rosenzweig (mail):
On a related note, I received this today from a friend at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers:

"I know it sounds like a bad joke, but NACDL has established a disaster relief center for criminal defense lawyers who have been wiped out. If you think that it would be appropriate, please feel free to circulate this information to folks who you think might help.

Basically, we established a Craig's List-type bulletin board where people can post needs--shelter, a place to work out of, help supervising cases, a computer--and other people can post "offers." Non-NACDL members who want to help can contact me and I'll post for them. The site is www.nacdl.org/relief

We will also be setting up a fund to help the indigent defense infrastructure get back on its feet, eventually.

Thanks in advance for any help you think you can offer.
* * * * *
Stephanie A. Martz
Director
White Collar Crime Project
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
1150 18th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 872-8600 x227

stephanie@nacdl.org"
9.1.2005 3:27pm
ptm (mail):
This stuff isn't regularly backed up and copied remotely? That seems absurd, even negligent. It's not like a nightly copy to a hard drive in Topeka is hard or expensive.
9.1.2005 3:53pm
chuck jackson (mail):
Backing up is even easier and cheaper than having your own disk drive in Kansas. Streamload for one offers on-line storage of up to 10 Gbytes for free (downloading it will cost you if you need more than 100Mbytes/month).

For $10 per month you can have unlimited storage and the right to download up to 10 Gbytes/month.

Backup solution. Compress files, encrypt files, bundle in a big zip/tar archive, and upload at 2 AM each day.

Chuck Jackson
9.1.2005 4:19pm
JRL:
Do they have basements in New Orleans? That doesn't seem likely considering they're already so far below sea level.
9.1.2005 4:47pm
Public_Defender:
According to the Times-Picayune today (I was sent a pdf, but not link), criminal cases are royally messed up. Files and evidence have been destroyed.

This is a boon to the guilty and a bane to the innocent. Serious criminals could go free because the evidence was destroyed. Innocent inmates have lost their chance to test old evidence.

I wonder how jail officials will sort out which prisoners are the guys serving a week for DUI or shoplifting and which are there pending murder charges.

The article speculated that speedy trial rights could cause many dismissals, but as a practitioner, my gut tells me that the hurricane will be declared good cause to miss the deadline. But that's just speculation.

There will be some ethical issues for defense attorneys. If the prosecutor provided discovery, and if that discovery is the only surviving evidence, the defense lawyers may have to help the prosecutor re-make the file.
9.1.2005 4:47pm
Burt Likko (mail) (www):
You wake up one morning and find that your home is gone, your office is gone, all your files and records of your clients are gone, your (surviving) clients are going to have no money to pay you anyway since they have no cash, no possessions, and everything they own is as gone as the stuff you used to own. Then, you've got no effective governmental response to the disaster and what's left of your community is quickly dissolving into a Hobbesian state of nature. Why would you want to even go back to a place like that?
9.1.2005 7:11pm
EJS:
Yes, this is an amazing disruption to the legal system. As far as problems that we should be concerned about in affected areas, however, this is somewhere below #1000, and it's a sorry commentary on the navel-gazing tendencies of lawyers that this e-mail has been the focus of so many of us in the last two days. Admittedly, some prisoners will face further over-crowding, some guilty persons will go free, and, indeed, some innocent persons may not be cleared. But given thousands dead, hundreds of thousands homeless, and an entire region in chaos, I think that lost evidence and files and (as an unexcerpted portion of the e-mail details) the prospect that some people might have to retake the bar exam is a comparably irrelevant concern.
9.1.2005 7:23pm
SimonD (mail):
For $10 per month you can have unlimited storage and the right to download up to 10 Gbytes/month.
Understand that the company I work for backs up somewhere in the region of 6gb of data per night. Backups are kept physically off-site, but within the same city. Plus, for lawyers I would imagine that confidentiality requirements impose an even higher burden. I don't disagree, though, with the wisdom of electronic copies and routine off-site backups.
9.1.2005 9:57pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Oh crimeny JDS! Every group is navel gazing. People like to think in terms that are "real" o them. People on the knitting email lists are discussing how sad it is that hobbiest lost yarn and suggesting volunteer efforts to knit sweaters for survivors. (I am not making this up.)

I'm and engineer (and obviously a knitter) and not a lawyer. I tell as many lawyer jokes as anyone. But, slamming lawyers for thinking about how this affect the legal system, which by the way, also affect the smooth functioning of society in general, is ridiculously small minded.
9.1.2005 10:06pm
Redman:
The folly of not storing data off site is compounded by the fact that there was a good 3 to 4 day warning of impending doom. Even if a lawyer had never backed up before . . . this was plenty of notice to do so.

Yes, hindsight is 20-20 and we must take it from here on a 'go forward' basis. We really need to have a frank discussion of how much taxpayer money from Topeka, Del Rio, etc., should be put into re-building a city which was 'broken' and obviously a ticking bomb. Speaker Hastert raised the question today and was soundly criticized. Let's spend the money to help evacuate the people to somewhere else, and simply not hold out hope that most of them will be able to return.
9.2.2005 12:49am
Public_Defender:
EJS writes: Yes, this is an amazing disruption to the legal system. As far as problems that we should be concerned about in affected areas, however, this is somewhere below #1000, and it's a sorry commentary on the navel-gazing tendencies of lawyers that this e-mail has been the focus of so many of us in the last two days.

lucia responds: But, slamming lawyers for thinking about how this affect the legal system, which by the way, also affect the smooth functioning of society in general, is ridiculously small minded.


I'd take it a step further than lucia. Once New Orleans area lawyers have secured their own families, they must see to their clients. The isn't "navel gazing," it's a duty.

To get the area back to normal, people must work to get their part of society working again. Shop owners must work to open their shops. Cab drivers must work to get their cabs working. Teachers must work to get the schools open. And yes, lawyers must work to get the justice system functioning.
9.2.2005 5:17am
The Original TS (mail):
It's true that many attorneys in NO will have had their current practices completely destroyed. But there's an opportunity here, too. LA has a unique legal system. Every single NO attorney should be taking this time to become experts in LA insurance law.

The insurance claims arising out of this will be staggering. There will be any number of issues that have to be worked out. Plus, lots of folks will need individual representation to ensure a fair settlement as insurance companies will be tempted to settle cheap whenever they can because of their massive exposure.

The LA legal community has a very difficult and important task ahead of it. In the months and even years ahead, there will be way more than enough work for everybody, though it might not necessarily be the work you're used to!
9.2.2005 5:43am
Joshua (mail):
This is a boon to the guilty and a bane to the innocent. Serious criminals could go free because the evidence was destroyed. Innocent inmates have lost their chance to test old evidence.

Given the scope of the devastation, some if not most wrongfully imprisoned inmates may now actually see their incarceration as a blessing in disguise. At least they still have their lives, shelter and a steady food supply, and will for the foreseeable future (death row inmates excepted). That's more than a lot of Louisianans outside the prison walls have.
9.2.2005 6:23pm
Public_Defender:
If people on the ground really thought that incarceration was a "blessing," Louisiana would have released the inmates and offered jail space to the public.
9.3.2005 6:36am